On December 3, 2015, over 250 African American young women from across the YES Prep system gathered to have conversations about sisterhood, racial pride, school, leadership, and community. Like its partner event, the Brotherhood Summit, the Sisterhood Summit is intended to help improve persistence and academic performance for one of the nation’s most underserved populations. The event, a first of its kind, stems from the belief that building a sense of community among black young women at YES Prep will help them persevere through the academic and social challenges they will encounter both inside and outside of education.
The event began with the young women meeting in groups with a mentor from the YES Prep staff or community and addressing questions about where they feel confident, when they feel strong, and what sisterhood means to them.
The keynote address was given by Melanie Singleton, a 2002 YES Prep alumna and Managing Director at Teach For America Houston. Singleton spoke about her history at YES Prep and experience being the only black woman in her high school. “I didn’t see anyone on campus that looked like me. Not just in my classroom. But also in the teaching staff,” Singleton stated. “If I could only imagine, back then, that YES would evolve to a place like this, with so many black young women, I would have done even more.” Singleton shared an Audre Lorde poem, “A Litany for Survival,” which altered the course of her studies at Columbia, and closed her talk with a call to action: “I want you to beat me. I want you to be the first black superintendent of YES Prep… There is nothing you can’t do if you rely on each other.”
Event organizer and YES Prep Manager of Recruitment, Elise Gilbert, echoed the need for reliance on sisterhood: “We’re here so you can create a bond with other women. All too often, we are portrayed as women who cannot support each other or get along. We’re portrayed as people who are constantly in competition– not as women who can come together. This is an opportunity, first and foremost, for you to come together.”
The attendees also had an opportunity to ask questions of a panel of leaders. The panel included Nell Reed, Public Relations Director with Houston Community College, Dr. Kim Johnson-Baker, Faculty Associate at UT Health, and Kamari Brewer, Director of Posse Foundation. The young women asked questions about the panelists’ experiences in high school and college, how they overcame challenges, and how they responded to stereotypes. Dr. Johnson-Baker stated: “I’m still facing prejudices. It’s a daily struggle. But knowing who you are and the tradition you come from strengthens you in facing the prejudices.”
In the afternoon, the young women split into small groups and discussed an article about the importance of instilling racial pride in black teens. Students also had an opportunity to craft belief statements intended to help them achieve and maintain a healthy emotional state of being and to equip them with the ability to cope with challenges. When asked why the event was important, Kierra Price, a student at YES Prep West, stated: “It gives us a chance to really express how we feel and how we can come together as black women.” Jazmine Marshall, also from YES Prep West, added, “When you connect with people around you, it’s easier to take in encouragement.”